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Leadership: From Simulation to Real-World Scenario in One Semester

December 2013

By Sarah Ham, Senior Manager, Marketing Communications, AACSB International

If you ask a business professional about the traits they look for in a recent graduate and potential employee, you'll most likely hear one catch phrase: 'they should be able to hit the ground running.' If you ask a professor (or even a dean) about the traits they hope their students graduate with, you'll probably hear something along the lines of, 'they should be ready for the real world.' The good thing is, those answers complement each other quite nicely. The challenging thing is, not every business school or professor has the tools, resources or insight to answer that call and develop the complex skill set required for leadership. But the connection is easier than you think.

Randall Marcuson, a former president and CEO of a bio-technology company in the global poultry industry and current executive chairman of Advanced Animal Diagnostics in Durham, North Carolina, recently collaborated with Dr. Sybil Henderson, a professor at North Carolina Central University's business school, to implement the Up Your Game simulation offered through UNC Kenan-Flagler Business School and AACSB International's Curriculum Development for Leadership seminar. The seminar, which is currently being offered January 23-24, includes a half-day 'train-the-trainer' session on Up Your Game.

An attendee of the seminar last year, Henderson was particularly interested in implementing the simulation with her undergraduate students, but she needed to understand how to do it most effectively. In the train-the-trainer session, Henderson learned how Kenan-Flagler designed the simulation to be used with both MBAs and undergraduate business students, as well as best practices for implementing the simulation in a workshop format. Marcuson, an executive coach at Kenan-Flagler and simulation facilitator, offered to help Henderson integrate the simulation into her curriculum vs. a stand-alone workshop.

The simulation surprised Henderson in many ways—particularly its flexible teaching format, which enabled her to enrich the curriculum far beyond that of any other classroom tool. While working together, what both Marcuson and Henderson found most surprising was the passion and personal conviction with which the students approached the business problems. Breaking out of the typical lecture mode may be challenging, but the dialogue that occurs as a result is priceless. Henderson noticed students 'coming out of their shells', when previously they were more reserved and not so open to participating freely in a lecture-type curriculum.

The simulation created a different dialogue—between student and professor, and student-to-student. Through his personal experience, Marcuson believes that a primary key to success for students was for them to truly be in the moment—get lost in the character and make real-time, 'gut' decisions, rather than prolong a response or overanalyze to the point of indecision. The true benefit of the simulation is that there are many right answers, offering the students a chance to explore different approaches and alternatives, and push their leadership skills into the 'what ifs' scenarios they may very well face one day. The simulation also created an invaluable consultative connection between Henderson and her students –a relationship that can only grow as the semester progresses.

Henderson and Marcuson even noticed that during the course of the simulation, some students started to sweat as they immersed themselves into character and imagined they were the leaders in charge. While some already had a reasonable amount of confidence in their decision-making, others acquiesced to the well-argued recommendations of their peers. But the most important thing is that the simulation triggered an excitement that no PowerPoint can accomplish. It developed the self-confidence and leadership skills that traditional case studies and other simulations don't offer. It stirred emotions and empowered students to speak their mind and put themselves in someone else's shoes—if only for a semester. At least, until they enter the workforce and make decisions while standing confidently on their own two feet.

If you would like to learn more about the Curriculum Development Series or to attend the upcoming Leadership portion to learn how to implement the simulation in your classroom, visit the event webpage.